The $50,000 Meeting

Perhaps the greatest equalizer among projects and even humanity itself is time. No matter how much money your organization has, or the capabilities of its leaders and management, no one can create additional time. Once spent, a moment in time can never be replaced. The philosophically interesting thing about this truism is that we often squander our time, only lamenting its passing long after the time has been lost, wishing we had seen the value of that moment more clearly.

When it comes to projects, we do have a subtle advantage to the question of time: we can generally quantify the cost of each passing moment through the project’s burn rate. While there are a variety of techniques for determining burn rate, and one can go overboard in trying to factor in all the various costs of a project, in many cases a fairly simplistic estimate can suffice (there’s a free burn rate estimator on my website at: http://www.prevoyancegroup.com/free_content/burn_rate_calculator/).

The cost of decisions

With a reasonable estimate of your project’s burn rate, time sensitive decisions and events can be brought into stark contrast. Many projects have failed due to a lack of decision making, or a tendency to avoid difficult decisions or constantly revisit and revise the course of action. This might seem prudent at the time: why not wait until tomorrow when we have more information—but there’s a massive cost that can now be quantified through burn rate. Taking a week to “think things over” might seem far less compelling when there’s a six-figure price tag associated with the delay.

Being penny smart

I am rarely one to suggest being miserly on project budgets. While you might like to have your staff ride bicycles to the job site and force out of town workers to sleep on a park bench, there is a financial benefit to spending the money to do things right. However, that’s no excuse to wantonly waste resources. A particularly compelling example that sticks in my head was on a massive project with over 200 staff involved. An “all hands” meeting was called that necessitated people from around the world fly to headquarters for the meeting. When all the staff were gathered and the meeting was slated to start (a few minutes late, as these things usually are), the AV equipment was not working. About 30 minutes was wasted working on the AV while 200 people sat, dozens more holding on the teleconference portion of the meeting, even the CFO and CEO being forced to sit for a few minutes when they arrived to give their thoughts.

A rough estimate indicated that this wasted 30 minutes easily burned $50,000 U.S. on project staff time alone, likely the annual salary of a lower-level employee, all because someone neglected to check the AV equipment a couple of hours before the meeting. This might be an extreme example, but as PM it’s worthwhile to remind your staff and stakeholders that everything from delayed decisions to poorly planned meetings has a very definite time (and monetary) cost associated with it. Occasional gentle reminders of the project’s burn rate can certainly facilitate a bit more care in these areas, once everyone realizes the very real financial cost associated with these seemingly valueless moments.

Patrick Gray is the founder and president of Prevoyance Group, and author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology. Prevoyance Group provides strategy consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at patrick.gray@prevoyancegroup.com and you can follow his blog at www.itbswatch.com.

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